By Richard Murphy
Borno State Governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, is definitely riding the wave as the year 2020 poster boy of populism. From surviving terrorist Boko Haram’s targeted attacks to being able to show off completed model projects amidst an insurgency, he has certainly won the heart of many Nigerians and the people of his troubled state to the point where some think he should run for presidency in 2023.
But the idea of hiring mercenaries to defeat Boko Haram, as currently postulated by the governor, qualifies as pushing one’s luck beyond the logical or reasonable. As would be expected of the postulations of someone with demagogic populist following, Zulum’s suggestion is gaining traction with some of his fellow governors hopping on the bandwagon in demanding that mercenaries should be added to the mix of efforts to defeat Boko Haram terrorists, who have made the Lake Chad Basin a killing field.
Such desperate suggestion appears justified in the light of the massacre of scores of rice farmers in Zabarmari area of Borno state. At a time of outrage, as the murder of the farmers threw the nation into, there should be no limit or restrictions to the ideas that should be placed on the table in the search of how to deal with the evil entity that is causing the nation sorrow.
So, Zulum’s suggestion should not be dismissed on face value. It should be properly evaluated before being thrashed and consigned to the dustbin of counterinsurgency efforts to ensure that whenever someone comes up with the idea again much efforts would not be dissipated before rejecting it.
First, former President Goodluck Jonathan had infamously hired South African mercenaries for this same assignment. Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP), a South African mercenary company, got that contract, which was later trailed by controversies. The fact that Boko Haram remained in existence after that company’s contract terminated attests to the fact that the ventured failed woefully. So, what stops a recourse to mercenaries from failing again?
Secondly, mercenaries, like STTEP, are not in a war for idealism or national interest, they are soldiers of fortune, who fight for the gains. If they successfully neutralize the problem on ground where will their next paycheck from? What stops the mercenaries from contriving situations that allow Boko Haram survive beyond its end point just to ensure that they continue to have a contract?
The issue of how and why the country would pass on the intelligence it gathers on terrorist activities it gathers to foreign mercenaries is another variable that proponents of this arrangement have not considered or at least provided answers about. Another leg of this is how Nigeria will deal with the mandatory non-disclosure clauses in the bilateral and multilateral agreements with international partners. We cannot receive intelligence from other countries and pass same to civilian contractors from third party nations. That alone would cause further degeneration to whatever conditions we are presently dealing with.
Furthermore, the mercenaries would be paid, and paid in foreign currency. The issue here is that if the same money is made available to the Nigerian troops, which would go into procuring much needed equipment and logistics, the kind the soldiers of fortune are able to afford on their contract, the logical outcome is that the troops would perform even better than the paid contractors.
Of course, there are the diplomatic knots and mishaps that could come from when these mercenaries intrude into the territories of Nigeria’s neighbours, something that is inevitable since the terrorists usually operate across international borders. While Nigeria can answer for the actions of its troops sent in pursuit of the terrorists, how much responsibility can we assume for the nationals of other nations that will form part of the mercenaries? Who takes responsibility if the soldiers of fortunes fall short of the acceptable rules of engagement?
At the street level, the clamour for the engagement of mercenaries is a sad reminder of the penchant of Nigerians not to appreciate what they locally. It is syndrome that has made Nigeria synonymous with everything foreign. In this regard, recent development has confirmed that excessive dependency on foreign components is not sustainable. Ironically and sadly, the murdered farmers were part of the success story of Nigeria’s capacity for self-reliance in rice production, something that was once considered impossible. The memory of them should not be desecrated with the engagement of foreigners when they had shown the way that Nigerians are capable.
Thus, the debate about whether to hire mercenaries or not should not be allowed to distract from the reality on ground and the actions needed to tackle them. This includes the fact that there are aspects of Boko Haram’s insurgency that are politically driven. What is needed in this aspect is for concerned parties to pressure those providing political sustenance for Boko Haram to cut off the support. There is the financial component as well and until those with the capacity begin to jail terrorists’ financiers as the United Arab Emirates jailed six persons recently, Boko Haram will continue to ample resources to wage war against humanity.
We must also not lose sight of the people who have made it their life mission to help terrorists advance their propaganda machine. They are the ones that make it possible for Boko Haram to brainwash new recruits and replace the ones being killed by the military. They are the ones that help the terrorists strike terror in the heart of people each time the terrorists carry out their heinous crimes. If these members of Boko Haram propaganda arm decide to sustain a claim that terrorism is alive and kicking irrespective of what the mercenaries have achieved, then their efforts would have been in vain.
It is time to face the reality and accept that we must ultimately look inwards in our bid to defeat terrorism. We owe ourselves the responsibility of channeling the money that would have been paid for hiring mercenaries to our military so that they can have the kind of hardware and logistics that the soldiers of fortune are able to afford. We should, at least for a moment, repose in our troops the kind of confidence we are expressing in foreign mercenaries. We must collective express support for the troops so that they will be inspired by the knowledge that their country is behind them as they risk life and limb in the course of each encounter with the terrorists.
Above all, we must be realistic enough to accept that the problem with Boko Haram’s insurgency remains politics and until the bad politics being played by a few opportunistic persons around President Muhammadu Buhari, and active collaborators in Borno state, is resolved, no foreign mercenaries will help the country. The Nigerian solution remains the only workable solution to the insurgency and that is what we should go for.
Murphy wrote this piece from Calabar.